The Ultimate Guide to Zakynthos
This guide to Zakynthos will take you beyond Shipwreck Beach and buzzy Laganas to explore one of the gems of the Ionian Sea.
The eye-watering sight of Shipwreck Beach leads the way on Zakynthos, an island that's risen to become the poster boy for the Ionian region. It sure is a stunner. The whole west coast is a symphony of chalk-white cliffs that lurch vertiginously out of a sea of pure cobalt blue. It's hardly a surprise that it's a major destination for yachters and beach lovers.
But there's also another side to Zakynthos (or Zante, as it's often known). Ditch the soaring rocks and impossible-to-reach bays out west for the southern and eastern shores and you'll encounter taverna-threaded resorts where family hotels spill onto soft beaches. There, the town of Laganas brings up the hedonistic end of the deal, while Alykes and Tsilivi offer a bout of classic Greek R&R to families.
This guide to Zakynthos will run through everything you need to know about the island. From ferry links to the top time of year to visit, it's a handy go-to for those looking for a fix of Ionian sun this season…
What's in this guide to Zakynthos?
- Where is Zakynthos?
- When to visit Zakynthos
- Things to do in Zakynthos
- The top beaches in Zakynthos
- How to get to Zakynthos
Where is Zakynthos, exactly?
Zakynthos is the last Greek island before the great spread of the Ionian Sea. It sits a mere 11.5 miles off the coast of the Peloponnese. That puts it in the far western part of Greece, with Sicily only 300 miles or so further west. More generally, Zakynthos is a part of the Ionian set of islands, which include Kefalonia (right next door to Zante to the north) and Corfu.
When to visit Zakynthos
Zakynthos is actually one of the most southerly of the Ionian islands. That helps to keep the temperatures here just a little higher than on, say, Corfu. Daily mean temperatures range from 11 C in January to over 26 C in August, while rainfall peaks in the midwinter and is almost non-existent in the midsummer. Basically, you're looking at a classic Greek Mediterranean climate; lots of sun, lots of warmth, but some coolness in the off season.
Zakynthos in Winter
Thermometers have been known to hit 20 degrees on Zakynthos in the winter. That's rare, though. Most of the time it hovers around 13 C and there are about 10 days of rain per month. That's not great news if you came here to laze on the beaches and swim in the coves of the west coast (as many do). However, it's fantastic for hikers and history buffs. With cool breezes and less potent UV, there's more scope to conquer the Akra Skinari trails and wander the Bohali Venetian fort at your pleasure.
Zakynthos in Spring
Transition is the keyword when it comes to spring in Zante. April starts with average daily temperatures of 15 C but ends at nearly 20 C. Rain steadily decreases, too, and – perhaps more importantly – the seasonal flights start operating into Zakynthos Airport (more on those later, though). People will start to arrive en masse by the middle of May but it's always far quieter than in the height of summer, meaning it's a top time to visit Shipwreck Beach. Early spring is also wonderful for walkers, because it's cool and the highlands of the island are blooming with wildflowers.
Zakynthos in Summer
June to August is peak season in Zakynthos. This is the time to come if you're on the hunt for proper beach lazing sessions and temperatures that have the potential to smash the 40 C mark (yep, 40 C!). The whole area between Alikanas and Keri begins to burst with tourists, especially after the northern European schools end around early July. Laganas is a focal point, mainly thanks to its hedonistic party strip (one for the 18-30s). You will pay more for a trip to Zaknythos in the summer, but the rewards are virtually endless sun and super-calm seas – it's perfect for boat-bound island hoppers crossing Ionia!
Zakynthos in Autumn
Shoulder-season jaunts hardly get better than Zakynthos in autumn. Summer lingers long in this southerly corner of the Ionian Sea. You can expect highs above 30 C into October, along with balmy evenings and dwindling crowds. We can't help but love this time of year, as the olive harvest begins and the beaches empty of sunbeds. There is more rain, though, and the region is susceptible to Mediterranean cyclones known as medicanes in September, which can be pretty brutal and shutdown all yachting and ferries for days on end.
Things to do in Zakynthos
Zante is rammed with activities. Whether you come here to go cove-hopping along the coastline or party the night away in thumping clubs, there's sure to be something that will suit…
Boat trip up the west coast
Ask any local and they'll tell you – you haven't seen Zakynthos until you've seen it from the sea. The real jewel here is the west coast. It's one of the most dramatic stretches of land in the country. Day-long boat trips are the top option. They leave from small harbours like Porto Limnionas and Vromi, but also from the bigger tourist towns on the south coast between May and October. Highlights along the way will include the Blue Caves – a strange wonderworld of eroded grottoes and cliff arches – and iconic Shipwreck Beach – arguably Greece's most famous stretch of sand!
Party in Laganas
Start out with some frothy Irish stouts in Scruffy Murphys. Then move onto Horizon for some sunset cocktails. Then hit the Laganas Strip, where the pulsing clubs of PLUSCLUB and Sugar Lounge will often party right on through until sunup. It's not for nothing that this resort has given Zante its reputation as one of the most hedonistic corners of the Mediterranean. If you're not around to let loose, then you'll probably hate it, so steer clear when the action's in town between May and August!
The speck of an island that is Marathonisi fragments into Keri Bay on the southern end of Zante. It's there along with a few other bijou islets, but it draws the eye with a forested hilltop that drops suddenly down to a swatch of golden sand. When the light's right, Marathonisi looks like it would fit right into the exotic archipelagos of the Philippines. These days, lots of boat trips include a pitstop here, but be careful – endangered sea turtles and seals both inhabit the island!
Discover some monastic sites
There's a smattering of enchanting monasteries on Zakynthos that is sure to impress any island-hopping culture vultures making their way through this part of the Ionian Sea. Check out the Panagia Skopiotissa monastery. Some of it is ruined, but it still sports its handsome 15th-century façades and an ikon that was crafted in Constantinople. Then there's the Anafonitria Monastery. It's on the road to Shipwreck Beach, so drop by on your way to the lookouts to see the remains of a Byzantine shrine, now sprouting ancient columns and blooms of wildflowers.
Zakynthos Town is where most of the ferries come in. It's also a hubbub of activity. You won't get the same no-holes-barred nightlife here as in Laganas, but there are wonderful Greek restaurants like Spartakos Taverna and Thymalos, offering mezze platters of Ionian cuisine right by the boats. Above town is a Venetian castle. In the old quarter there are colourful Orthodox churches. And the people watching is top notch.
The best beaches in Zakynthos
Zakynthos is home to arguably the most-photographed beach in all of Greece. Beyond that, you get softer shorelines in the east and south that are better for those looking to rent a sunbed and laze their days away. Here are five of the best coastal spots on the island:
Shipwreck Beach (Navagio Beach)
Prepare to be stunned by Shipwreck Beach. There's simply no doubt that this is the most famous location on all of Zante. No guide to Zakynthos could be without it. Carved out of the north-west shoreline like a giant's amphitheatre, it's overlooked by 650-foot-high cliffs of pristine white stone. Below, the rusting shell of an old ship (hence the name) languishes on the sand. The only way to get to Shipwreck Beach itself is by boat. Alternatively, you can hit up the high lookout points above by driving past Anafonitria.
Gerakas Beach stretches along the southwestern edge of Zakynthos. Running nearly 2,000 meters from top to bottom, it has a number of areas. The far end close to the twisted clifftops is the unofficial nudist part. The north end is more popular with families, mainly because of the proximity to Laganas. In the middle, there are long lengths of yellow sand that are protected by the boundaries of a nature reserve for their resident sea turtle populations. You can even come to see those turtles during the hatching season between May and October, but that will involve getting up with the sunrise!
Take the winding roads that head south from Zakynthos Town and you'll eventually cross the gorgeous bay of Porto Zoro. The spot reminds us of the lusher coastal reaches of more northerly Ionian Islands, like Corfu. With casuarinas and pines clustering between the crags above you, the sand – white-tinted and super soft – rolls out before calm seas (super calm, in fact, because they face east towards the Greek mainland). It's just a lovely place to chill for a few days. Or 20!
Porto Vromi channels a little of the Balearic Islands down in the Greek Ionian. Set in a deep inlet with pockets of green scrub overhead and sun-cracked stone headlands jutting out on both sides, it's like something you'd find in Menorca. The waters shimmer a distinct turquoise and the pebbles are perfectly white. Lots of people launch their boat outings to Shipwreck Beach from here, but we'd say Vromi is worth a day on its own, especially once you've discovered the sunbathing platforms on the clifftops!
We've picked out Amboula Beach instead of the more-popular family resort beaches of Alykes here because we appreciate the calmer atmosphere that comes with being outside of a main town. Amboula is still built-up – there are water sports outfitters and a couple of tavernas just behind. But the vibe is relaxed and the shoreline is rarely packed with bodies. The beach itself is a small curve of pebbly sand broken by jetties. The snorkelling is wonderful thanks to the smattering of little rock reefs and kelp gardens that run north. Just watch out for the urchins!
How to get to Zakynthos
Zante is an island, so you're going to need to whiz across the seas or fly in to arrive. In this part of our guide to Zakynthos, we take a look at those two options…
Zakynthos Dionysios Solomos Airport handles over 1.8 million passengers each year. Most of them fly in during the months between May and August, so a majority of the flights touching down on the runways are seasonal. However, even the seasonal flights usually start in April and last until October, so there's lots of potential for shoulder-season jaunts direct to Zante. Today, big names – Lufthansa, LOT, BA – run connections alongside budget fliers, with some of the most popular being:
Ryanair – A budget carrier that's usually the cheapest of the bunch (although extra baggage costs can be prohibitive), Ryanair has some of the best connections between European hubs and Zante, with flights coming in from Bergamo, Brussels, Milan, and Warsaw to name just a few.
Jet2.com – An upcoming budget carrier that runs loads of seasonal flights to regional UK airports, including the East Midlands, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Manchester.
TUI Airways – A charter airline that specialises in holiday packages, usually in the main resorts of the south and east coastlines. Book with TUI if you want to sort accommodation, transfers and flights in one.
You shouldn't need a detailed guide to Zakynthos ferries. Things are kept simple here, because there are only really two routes on offer. One is a connection to the Greek mainland and the other is a link to the nearby island of Kefalonia. (There was once a direct connection from Italy (Bari) to Zakynthos, but that's since stopped and you'll now need to transit through the port town of Patras.)
Here are the main routes to know about:
Kyllini to Zakynthos (1h 15 / €19) – Running up to three times each day in the main season, the Kyllini to Zakynthos connection is operated by Levante Ferries. It's the fastest way to get to Zante from the Greek mainland.
Kefalonia to Zakynthos (1h 40 / €9 on foot and €30 for a car) – A fantastic leg for those on an island-hopping trip through the Ionian region, this connection takes you from gorgeous Kefalonia direct to Zakynthos Town. You'll even be able to spot smaller islands from the deck along the way!
There's a good chance that this guide to Zakynthos has got you reaching for your passport and packing the sun cream ready for a trip to the home of Shipwreck Beach and the party strips of Laganas. Good! We've also got guides to a whole host of other Greek islands with oodles of sun, sand, sea, and sailing opportunities!